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The Worldwide Cell Church Movement
by Joel Comiskey
I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the worldwide ethnic diversity of the cell church movement. I’m planting a church here in Moreno Valley that is mainly reaching cuacasions/whites. Yet, last Wednesday I gave a mini-cell seminar at a Spanish cell church down the street. Two weeks earlier I did a cell seminar in Freemont, CA, in which half of the pastors on staff were Asian. I’m reminded of the ethnic variety that exists in the United States and how cell church ministry works among this diversity. I’m also stimulated to make a new effort to reach that mix–since my city is 38% hispanic, 32% white, and 18% Asian.North America must increasingly be seen from the perspective of a great variety of colors and cultural diversity.
The white population of California, for example, is now officially a minority race. Los Angeles, like many urban centers, is now brown and black. Even the suburbs have been transformed. Entire suburban neighborhoods are dominated by Vietnamese, Armenians, Chinese, and Koreans. The beauty of the worldwide cell church movement is that indivdiual cells can have their own flavor, whether that flavor is a particular ethnic group, age group, marital status, or addiction that the group is seeking to overcome. Those diverse cells then come together to celebrate God’s glory and His rich diversity.
One of the reasons God is using the cell church movement worldwide is because it’s not based on one model that only works in one culture. It’s able to reach people wherever they are and whoever they are.
My good friend, Bill Joukhadar, is the cell pastor at Maadi Community Church in Cairo, Egypt, which is the spiritual home to 50 nationalities and 40 Christian denominations. The Maadi church is an English speaking International church, a spiritual home for expatriates from 50 nations.
When Bill took over the cell ministry, there were zero cell groups. Now there are 330 cell groups (3,100 members), 1,300 + new believers have come to Christ through our cell groups, 5 daughter churches were planted in the second half of 2006, and 900 + lay members have undergone their locally developed 6 session cell pastor training course (600+ are presently serving as lay cell pastors).
The cell driven church plan has been adopted by evangelical churches in Cyprus, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Finland, The Netherlands, Australia, Brazil, The Philippines and California. The MAADI church is known as ‘the church with the revolving door,’ with a turn over of 1/3 of the congregation every year. Yet, this church refuses to see this as a negative, but rather a postive because the church can help those who enter the church leave ‘on fire’ for Him and His purposes. Bill refers to them as “Fire Foxes burning up the work of the enemy, world wide.”
I did a cell seminar at MAADI church in March 2003 and remember being amazed at the power of God using cell church principles in every culture, time, and setting!
Another resistant culture that is seeing a cell church explosion is Thailand. National Thai leader, Timothy Jeng and his wife, Rex, were in my home recently to kick off our annual mission conference at Wellspring. Timothy speaks six languages, pastors the largest CMA church in the country (360 members and 20 cell groups), and heads up the Thai unity vision to plant a church in every district by 2010.
Thailand, a graveyard for missions and missionaries for the last 100 years is finally opening up to the gospel. God is using Cell church ministry as one of His key strategies in the country.
I asked Timothy about the resurgence of the cell movement in Thailand, and he reflected on the maturing of cell ministry over the years. The first major impact was the incredible growth of Hope of Bangkok, a pure cell church and the largest church in Thailand with 5000 people attending. The second impact was from Singapore. Lawrence Khong’s seminars (Faith Community Baptist Church) were helpful, but even more fruitful were the practical seminars and workshops from Trinity Christian Centre, also from Singapore. Yet, more recently Thai pastors have been networking together under the umbrella of Ben Wong’s Cell Church Mission Network. When I attended the CCMN conference in Indonesia in 2005, the largest delegation was from Thailand (about 75 pastors and leaders), and in 2006 the conference was held in Thailand!
As we gathered that evening to hear Timothy and Rex speak, we heard amazing stories of physical healings and power encounters that are taking place across Thailand. God is moving in Thailand and throughout the world, and we can rejoice in His handiwork.
I love the fact that the cell church movement is worldwide. Cell church doesn’t belong to Egypt, Thailand, Korea, Bogota or Lousiana. It has its origins in the New Testament and has now spread to include the entire world. Jim Egli wrote an excellent paper on the history of the cell movement that you can download here. The early church was a house church movement, as is so clearly brought out in Roger W. Gehring’s excellent book, House Church and Mission. God used cell based ministry throughout the centuries, but John Wesley (June 17, 1703 – March 2, 1791) really made it the method of his ministry . God used Wesley and the Methodists to grow a church of 10,000 cells (classes) and 100,000 members–and many believe that Wesley’s ministry saved England from moral disaster. David Cho ushered in the modern-day cell church movement, which has now spread around the globe. My research has mainly focused on the cell church in Latin America (Passion and Persistence and Groups of Twelve) and now in the western world (Cell Church Solutions).
Appendix: I've listed below the common patterns or principles that I observed in the eight largest worldwide cell churches. The first four are the most important, in my opinion.
- Dependence on Jesus Christ through prayer.
- Senior pastor and leadership team giving strong, visionary leadership to the cell ministry.
- Cell ministry promoted as the backbone of the church.
- Clear definition of a cell group (weekly, outside the church building, evangelistic, pastoral care/discipleship, clear goal of multiplication).
- The passion behind cell ministry is evangelism and church growth.
- Reproduction (multiplication) is the major goal of each cell group.
- Cell and celebration attendance expected of everyone attending the church.
- Clearly established leadership requirements for those entering cell ministry.
- Required cell leadership training for all potential cell group leaders.
- Cell leadership developed from within the church itself, at all levels.
- A supervisory care structure for each level of leadership (G-12 or 5x5).
- Follow-up system of visitors and new converts administered through cell groups.
- Cell lessons based on pastor’s teaching to promote continuity between cell and celebration (although flexibility might be given to meet the needs of specific homogeneous groups)